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US Sikh groups rally to ensure safety of community
Devastated by the killing of six Sikh worshippers at a gurdwara in Wisconsin, the 700,000-strong Sikh community in the US has rallied round to offer succour and seek reassurances of safety from the authorities.
United Sikhs, a UN affiliated non-profit group, has started emergency response action and set up a task force to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that the Sikh community is reassured of its safety.
It has also called on the interfaith community to show solidarity by holding prayer vigils in places of worship.
Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, put the onus on politicians, media, academics and non-profit leaders to educate Americans about diverse groups and act “to lessen this kind of rage”.
Sikhs, growing up in the US feel as if they don’t belong in this country after incidents such as this, he said.
“Everybody should feel at home,” Rajwant Singh said. “This nation belongs to everyone”, he said, appealing for calm.
The council has identified the victims as: Seeta Singh (Granthi), Parkash Singh (Granthi), Ranjit Singh (hymn singer), Satwant Singh Kaleka, president of the gurdwara, Subegh Singh, Parmjit Kaur Toor, Punjab Singh and Santokh Singh. The last two are in critical condition.
There are an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 Sikh families in the Milwaukee area which has two gurdwaras. The Wisconsin gurdwara was founded in October 1997 with a community of 20 to 25 families.
It has 350 to 400 people in its congregation and has grown rapidly. The other gurdwara is in Brookfield, Wisconsin, around 50 km away in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee.
Was the gurdwara shooter a white supremacist?
As FBI looked for a motive for Sunday’s attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, media reports suggested the gunman, a bald man with a 9/11 tattoo on one arm, may have been a white supremacist.
More details about the shooter, who shot six worshippers to death and wounded three at the gurdwara in a Milwaukee suburb before he himself was killed by police, may emerge at a press conference later, CNN said citing a law enforcement source.
However, sources cited by Fox News identified the shooter as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old ex-soldier who was at one time was attached to the Fort Bragg Army installation in North Carolina.
FBI is treating the gurdwara shooting as an act of domestic terrorism but the motive of the attack remained unclear.
Satwant Kaleka, president of the temple, was one of those shot. According to multiple sources he attempted to tackle the suspect as he sprayed gunfire inside the temple.
Meanwhile, federal agents and the county sheriff’s bomb squad swarmed a neighbourhood in nearby Cudahy and asked two blocks of residents to leave the area or remain indoors before starting a search at the home of the shooter.
FBI agents reached the spot with an armoured truck, a trailer and other vehicles. Other law enforcement officers were there too, along with a police dog, Fox News said.
A resident, Kurt Weins, told the Journal Sentinel he rented out the upper flat of the duplex to a man in his 40s.
“I had him checked out and he definitely checked out,” Weins told the newspaper. “The cops told me they don’t want me to say nothing right now.”
Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, a gurdwara member who was outside the temple, said those inside described the attacker as a bald white man, dressed in a white T-shirt and black pants and with a 9/11 tattoo on one arm — which “implies to me that there’s some level of hate crime there”.
The victims ranged in age from their late 20s to about 70, Justice Singh Khalsa, a temple member since the 1990s, who helped translate witness accounts for authorities, told CNN.
The three people who were wounded remained in critical condition early Monday morning at Milwaukee’s Froedtert Hospital. One had been shot in the abdomen and chest, another in the face, and the third in the neck, the hospital said.
Because of their customary beards and turbans, Sikh men are often confused with Muslims, and they have been the targets of hate crimes since the Sep 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
The Sikh Coalition, a New York-based advocacy group, has reported more than 700 attacks or bias-related incidents since 9/11.